2010 MLB Predictions/Previews: Cleveland Indians
Hard to believe, as many of us watch the snow fall outside, that the Boys of Summer are almost back. But it’s true; teams have reported to 2010 Major League Baseball training camps and it’s time to start our team-by-team baseball gambling previews for the year.
MLB Team Preview – Cleveland Indians
Hard to believe the Cleveland Indians won the American League Central as recently as 2007. Over the last two years, they’ve morphed into a shadow of that team. Many of the same players that made the 2007 group so promising are actually still with the organization, but injuries or lack of development have totally halted the Tribe. That and the departures of two guys named C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Ever heard of ’em?
It’s a downright eerie feeling looking up and down the Indians’ order. So many of the same guys that got us excited a few years ago have become question marks. Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta projected as potential All-Star infielders; instead, every time one of them takes a step forward, he follows with two steps backward. Peralta hit .276 with 23 homers in 2008 but regressed to .254 with 11 homers last year.
Travis Hafner once stood beside David Ortiz as one of baseball’s two most feared designated hitters. Now, after numerous elbow injuries, his power seems to be fading away.
Grady Sizemore was nowhere near his All-Star self last season, battling elbow problems until surgery derailed him, but he’s much more likely than the other former Cleveland stalwarts to rebound. Sizemore is still just 27 and is an elite talent. He also still could get better help in the lineup this year than last. Shin Choo-Choo quietly hit .300 with 20 homers, 21 steals and a .394 on-base percentage. If he can keep up that production with a healthy Sizemore into the lineup, he could drive in 100 this year.
Russell Branyan returns to Cleveland, where he started his career. While his 31-homer outburst last year wasn’t a total fluke – we all knew he had that type of power – his 431 at-bats with the Mariners were. Given his brutal plate discipline, he’ll be hard-pressed to remain a regular. The real key to Cleveland’s improvement this year is Matt LaPorta. The key prize in the C.C. Sabathia trade to Milwaukee in 2008, he’s their top power prospect and the Tribe still believe he can be their cleanup hitter for years to come.
Cleveland’s pitching staff could be a train wreck this year. It’s “anchored” by Jake Westbrook, a long-time vet who has barely pitched the last two seasons thanks to Tommy John surgery. There’s no guarantee that he’ll ever be an effective innings eater again considering he’s already 32 years old.
That leaves Sinkerballer Fausto Carmona, who has been positively awful since winning 19 games as a rookie; youngster David Huff, who didn’t miss bats in his rookie season but did go 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in September; Aaron Laffey, who can’t overpower anyone; and Justin Masterson. Only Masterson, who posted a good strikeout rate over 10 starts with the Indians last year, has the upside of a No. 2 starter.
In Kerry Wood, Chris Perez and Rafael Perez, the Indians should have a good bullpen on paper, but Rafael Perez fell off the face of the Earth last year and Wood struggled mightily in the first half. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wood dealt at the trade deadline.
The American League Central isn’t one of baseball’s best divisions; it may actually be among the worst. But the Twins, Tigers and White Sox still have more talent than Cleveland, especially on the pitching side. I therefore can’t see the Tribe being too competitive this season, even if Sizemore stays healthy.
Did I mention that the Indians hired Manny Acta – yes, the Manny Acta who managed Washington – to run the show this year? Gulp.
Indians Prediction: Fifth, American League Central
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